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Can French farmers learn from Indian grassroots innovators?

Frederick and his wife are computer engineers in Paris working in a company earning well. One day, a question arose in their mind as to whether they could make a greater social and environmental impact than what they were doing. They left their computer job and moved to a village in Bologne region and hired an old house. They restored it and started looking for farms to rent to do agriculture. During the search, one day they found snails in their backyards. An idea came to his mind – couldn’t he take up snail farming as an activity in future. He proposed to various farmers to rent their lands for this purpose but nobody believed him that he could make much income from snail farming. But three years he kept on struggling while simultaneously pursuing experiments in his backyards. After waiting for long, he decided then to put his whole saving and buy a hectare of land for 10000 Euros. He began to notice all the differences in different parts of the field. To prevent strong winds affecting the snails, he planted
fruit trees on one side of the farm. To prevent grass from growing too much, he had sheep to graze and keep the conditions for snails favourable. In the seasons when snails multiplied and the grass grew tall, he brought rabbits to cut it for later sheep to graze. He found that upto 4 kg of meat per square meter. About 400,000 snails could be reared in one hectare. He hired some labourers to process it. He lived in very small rooms – one third and two third of his house was used as lab for processing the snails and also for storage of snails during hibernation in winter. Today, people who laughed at him earlier, marvel at his ingenuity and entrepreneurship. He has so much demand that he can only meet 50 per cent from his farm and remaining 50 per cent he buys from other farmers whom he mentored for snail cultivation. A lot of farmers came to him for advice and he would share his knowledge without any hesitation and reservation. He also had some benches for children to come from nearby schools to learn about snail farming and their life cycle. In his shop, where they sell the cooked snails, either in the natural shell or in the edible shells, he also displays the products developed by other green young entrepreneurs. He has local juices, jams, herbal teas, special wines and other products. His belief was that every green entrepreneur must also share products of other small entrepreneurs to expand their market. He does not use chemicals, other cultivation or preservation of the snail meat. He follows the nature and tries to work within the limits imposed by it.

He gives as much importance to his farm as production facility as an educational facility. It is his firm belief that his learning depends upon his willingness to share. Seeing his success, some farmers have given him small piece of land to cultivate snails in lieu of a privilege to partake as and when they meet. From a position of not being trusted and being but of a joke, he has now been elected as head of the village council and his judgements are trusted for the community wellbeing. He has two sons and a
daughter and I was not surprised to see a book of yoga exercises used in his kinder garden for toddlers. I am yet to find book on yoga for primary school children in many schools of our country. When he processed the fruits from his garden, he didn’t have much use for the seeds except feeding them to the scavenging poultry birds when he saw the video of multipurpose fruit processing machine of Dharamveer Singh, he realized that he can get essential oils from the seeds and the remaining biomass can be fed to the birds.

Indian young farmers can learn the importance of in situ value addition, building their own testing and processing labs. The French farmers will not find small machinery manage small farms or process small quantities for which Indian grassroots innovation can provide very useful alternative. There is very strong prospect of Honey Bee Network evolving and growing in France. So far China has strongest network besides Kenya and dozens of other countries where it has weak presence. I will share next week how students of agriculture were surprised to learn that they were never taught about the use of milk for viral diseases. Be tuned for many of these stories illustrated graphically at Satvik, 24 – 26 December 2017 at AES Ground, Ahmedabad. If you have your own stories to share, nutritional food recipe to teach others, write back to us.

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